Today’s D Brief: Combat in the Red Sea; Space Force’s successful experiment; Singapore’s stealth jets; AI-powered election threats; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

The U.S. military shot down another drone over the Red Sea on Thursday. U.S. forces also conducted two airstrikes to destroy half a dozen anti-ship cruise missiles prepared for launch from Houthi territory inside Yemen around sundown, defense officials at the Tampa-based Central Command said Thursday evening. And unless there is a lapse in reporting, there doesn’t appear to have been any hostile activity aimed at U.S. forces to report from the Iran-backed militia Wednesday, which is somewhat unusual. 

U.S. aircraft and an allied warship shot down five Houthi drones over the Red Sea about two hours before midnight Tuesday evening, CENTCOM said. 

The German navy shot down two drones over the Red Sea on Wednesday, thanks to crew aboard the frigate Hessen. The ship arrived in the region over the weekend as part of the European Union’s Red Sea shipping security mission, Deutsche Welle reported earlier this week. The EU ships can defend other vessels in the region, but their mission does not include carrying out airstrikes inside Yemen—unlike U.S. and British assets in the region. 

But the same German ship accidentally tried to shoot down a U.S. drone over the Red Sea on Monday. “The case was resolved when it turned out that it wasn’t a hostile drone, which only became clear in hindsight,” a military spokesman told DW. “This is … probably the most dangerous deployment of the German navy for many, many years,” one German official told reporters this week, according to Reuters. 

In case you’re wondering: “There are between four and eight Coalition ships in the Red Sea on any given day,” Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Pete Nguyen said in a statement Friday morning. 

And in terms of Houthi attacks: “No military vessels have been impacted by Houthi UAVs or missiles,” Nguyen said. However, he added, “Approximately 15 commercial ships have been impacted,” and “Four of those ships were U.S. ships.”

Developing: The Houthis are resorting to carnival barker tactics, with their leader on Thursday promising in his weekly televised remarks “surprises that our enemies will not expect at all” in the vicinity of the Red Sea in the coming days. He also predicted “demise, defeat, failure, and humiliation” for Israel, which is pretty standard fare for the 45-year-old Iran-backed militia leader Abdul Malik al-Houthi. 

He also claimed his fighters have attacked 54 ships along Yemen’s coasts using 384 missiles and drones. Those attacks, al-Houthi said, will continue “until the aggression [from Israel] on Gaza stops, and the siege is dismantled. Our operations are ongoing and growing in the Red Sea,” he boasted, “and we have prepared many surprises that the enemies cannot expect, and we will effectuate them soon,” he said without elaborating. 

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1953, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin suffered a stroke and collapsed, before dying four days later. The events between his stroke and his death were satirized in an award-winning 2018 comedy (which was banned in Russia) based on the French graphic novel, “La Mort de Staline.”

Developing: The Space Force has already seen success from experimental units that buy as well as use their gear. So the service is now looking to apply this model in more places, the new head of Space Operations Command said this week. 

Background: Chief of Space Operations Gen. Chance Saltzman announced in September that his service was launching a prototype effort to put operations, acquisition, and sustainment for certain missions under single team leaders. That’s a departure from the current structure of the service, which splits these into different commands, Defense One’s Audrey Decker reported Thursday.

“What’s coming next? That’s up to the secretary and the service chief,” Lt. Gen. David Miller told reporters Feb. 27. “I will tell you that my recommendations are in,” he said. Continue reading, here. 

Virginia shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries completed its first sea trials for a new Virginia-class attack submarine New Jersey (SSN 796), the company announced Thursday from its Newport News division. Engineers “submerg[ed] the submarine for the first time and conduct[ed] high-speed maneuvers while on the surface and submerged,” HII said Thursday. 

Virginia-class subs are nuclear-powered and carry cruise missiles. They were designed to replace nearly two dozen of the late 20th-century Los Angeles-class submarines as they retire, which is a process expected to last until around 2040. 

Meanwhile, a $1 billion repair is finally getting moving for the Improved Los Angeles-class sub USS Boise (SSN-764), which last deployed nine years ago, U.S. Naval Institute News reported. 

“Boise has been the poster child for the Navy’s submarine maintenance backlog in its own public shipyards,” Sam LaGrone of USNI noted. “The boat was initially set to enter dry dock for the overhaul in Fiscal Year 2016, but there was no room at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.” Aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs get priority over other maintenance plans. “If those repairs run long, the attack subs are bumped from the schedule,” LaGrone explained. Read more, here.

More news:

Singapore says it will buy eight more F-35 stealth fighters, which is on top of the 12 its military has already ordered to replace its F-16s, Reuters reported Friday. Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced the update in an address to parliament on Wednesday. He gave few details such as cost, e.g.; but he did say Singapore wants eight of the F-35A models in addition to the dozen B variants previously on order. The first of those B models aren’t expected for another two years, Ng said. More from Reuters, here. 

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s effort to block the sale of 40 F-16s to Turkey was roundly defeated by 79 other senators on Thursday. Paul managed to get a dozen to support his measure, but that was far short of what would have been required to halt the sales over what the Republican said was Turkey’s “misbehavior.” 

“I’m not here to defend Turkey or the other things that they do,” fellow Republican Jim Risch of Idaho said. “What I am here to do is defend the importance of NATO.” The Associated Press has more, here.

And lastly: Prepare for an election year with fast-paced threats powered by AI, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Thursday at an event hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. 

“In the U.S., as everyone here knows, has confronted foreign malign influence threats in the past. This election cycle, the U.S. will face more adversaries moving at a faster pace and enabled by new technology,” said Wray. “Advances in generative AI, for instance, are lowering the barrier to entry, making it easier for both more and less sophisticated foreign adversaries to engage in malign influence, while making foreign influence efforts—efforts by players both old and new—more realistic, and more difficult to detect.”

To prepare for this apparent inevitability, the FBI wants to focus on ways to defend against AI by working with the private sector to stay ahead of threats, and also protecting tech companies’ intellectual property from foreign adversaries, Defense One’s Lauren Williams reported Thursday. Read on, here.

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